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Lisa Yount - Modern Astronomy

Lisa Yount - Modern Astronomy

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Hubble continued his work in the 1930s, confirming his redshift find-
ings and extending them to galaxies farther and farther away from
Earth. Wanting to study galaxies even fainter than those that the
Hooker Telescope could reveal, he helped George Ellery Hale set up
Hale’s new observatory on Mount Palomar and greatly looked forward
to being able to use the 200-inch (5.1-m) telescope being built there.
By the end of the decade, Hubble was famous. He had won vir-
tually every award in astronomy, including the Bruce Medal of the
Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1938), the Benjamin Franklin
Medal of the Franklin Institute (1939), and the Gold Medal of the
Royal Astronomical Society (1940). His fame, furthermore, extend-
ed well beyond the astronomical community. For instance, one of
several popular books he wrote about astronomy, The Realm of the
Nebulae, became a best seller when it was published in 1936.

With his well-tailored clothes, British accent, and pipe, Edwin
Hubble was the perfect picture of a distinguished scientist, and
people were eager to meet him. He and his wife, Grace, whom
he had married in 1924, attended many Hollywood parties in the
1930s and 1940s and became friends with film personalities such as
Charlie Chaplin. Donald Osterbrock and his coauthors wrote that
Hubble’s “compelling personality seemed less like those of other
astronomers than like those of the movie stars and writers who
became his friends in the later years of his life.”
Hubble took a break from his astronomical work during World
War II, just as he had in World War I. This time he worked at the
U.S. Army’s Ballistics Research Laboratory at the Aberdeen Proving
Ground in Maryland, calculating the flight paths of artillery shells.
After the war, when the 200-inch (5.1-m) Hale Telescope finally
went into operation on Mount Palomar in 1948, Hubble was the
first astronomer allowed to use it. Sadly, he was not able to work
with it for long. Hubble died of a stroke at age 63 in San Marino,
California, on September 28, 1953.
Just as George Ellery Hale had left a legacy of new telescopes
with unimaginable power, Edwin Hubble left a heritage of
puzzles for people using those telescopes to explore. With his
demonstration of the expanding universe, Hubble founded a new
field of astronomy: observational cosmology. Before his time,
cosmology—the study of the origin, evolution, and structure of
the universe—had been more the province of theologians and
philosophers than of scientists. Hubble, however, showed that
conclusions about these matters could be drawn from and tested
by observable physical facts. As Donald Osterbrock and his coau-
thors wrote in Scientific American, “Hubble’s energetic drive,
keen intellect and supple communication skills enabled him to
seize the problem of the construction of the universe and make it
peculiarly his own.”



Edwin Hubble born in Marshfi eld, Missouri, on November 20


Hubble family moves to Wheaton, Illinois


32 Modern Astronomy


Hubble earns B.S. in physics from University of Chicago


Henrietta Leavitt discovers that Cepheid variable stars can
be used to determine distances of faraway astronomical

1910–13 Hubble studies law at Queen’s College (Oxford University),
England, on Rhodes scholarship

1914–17 Hubble photographs faint nebulae at Yerkes Observatory


Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicts that the
universe will either expand or contract over time


In October, George Ellery Hale offers Hubble a staff position
at Mount Wilson Observatory


Vesto Slipher publishes analysis of Doppler shifts in spectra of
25 spiral nebulae, showing that most of the nebulae are mov-
ing away from Earth; Einstein adds cosmological constant to
his relativity equations to make them show an unchanging
universe; Hubble earns Ph.D. from University of Chicago and
enlists in U.S. Army


Hubble is discharged from the army, returns to United States,
and joins staff of Mount Wilson Observatory in August


On October 5, Hubble makes photograph of Andromeda
nebula (M31) containing what appears to be a Cepheid


In February, Hubble confi rms identifi cation of Cepheid in
M31 and uses the star to determine the nebula’s distance from


On January 1, scientifi c meeting hears Hubble’s paper proving
that M31 and another spiral nebula lie outside the Milky Way
and are probably independent galaxies


Hubble devises classifi cation system for galaxies


On March 15, Hubble publishes paper showing that most gal-
axies are moving away from Earth and that the farther away
they are, the faster they are moving


Hubble extends redshift research to fainter and fainter galaxies,
helps George Ellery Hale set up Mount Palomar Observatory,
and becomes friends with movie stars and famous people


Einstein thanks Hubble for restoring his faith in the original
version of his general theory of relativity


Hubble publishes Realm of the Nebulae


Hubble wins Bruce Medal


Hubble wins Benjamin Franklin Medal


Hubble wins Gold Medal of Royal Astronomical Society

1940–45 Hubble calculates fl ight paths of artillery shells at Aberdeen
Proving Ground


Hubble becomes fi rst astronomer to use Mount Palomar’s
Hale Telescope


Hubble dies of a stroke in San Marino, California, on
September 28

Further Reading


Bartusiak, Marcia, ed. Archives of the Universe: A Treasury of
Astronomy’s Historic Works of Discovery. New York: Pantheon
Books, 2004.

Includes reprints of Hubble’s two most important papers, “Cepheids
in Spiral Nebulae” and “A Relation between Distance and Radial
Velocity among Extra-Galactic Nebulae,” with commentary.

Christianson, Gale E. Edwin Hubble: Mariner of the Nebulae. New
York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995.

Full-length, detailed biography of Hubble.

Ferris, Timothy. Coming of Age in the Milky Way. New York:
William Morrow, 1988.

History of humans’ attempts to understand their place in the physical
universe tells how Edwin Hubble’s discoveries changed astronomers’
picture of the cosmos.


34 Modern Astronomy

Hubble, Edwin. The Realm of the Nebulae. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1936.

Reprint of the Silliman Lectures, given at Yale University, in which
Hubble describes his research for nonscientists.

Sharov, Alexander S., and Igor D. Novikov. Edwin Hubble, the
Discoverer of the Big Bang Universe. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1993.

Short translated book by two Russian astronomers is divided into a
section on Hubble’s life and work and a section on later discoveries
based on Hubble’s findings.


“Admiral of the Starry Sea.” U.S. News & World Report 125
(August 17, 1998), 48–52.

Popular magazine article describing Edwin Hubble’s personality and

Christianson, Gale. “Mastering the Universe.” Astronomy 27
(February 1999): 60ff.

Hubble’s chief biographer portrays highlights of his life and work.

Lemonick, Michael D. “The Astronomer.” Time 153 (March 29,
1999), 124ff.

Popular article about Hubble’s career and discoveries.

Osterbrock, Donald E., Joel A. Gwinn, and Ronald S. Brashear.
“Edwin Hubble and the Expanding Universe.” Scientific American
269 (July 1993), 84–89.

Detailed biographical article about Hubble and his discoveries.

Sandage, Allan. “Edwin Hubble 1889–1953.” Journal of the Royal
Astronomical Society of Canada 83 (December 1989).

Article written on the centennial of Hubble’s birth that concentrates
on Hubble’s work, especially his four most important achievements.

Web Site

EdwinHubble.com. URL: http://www.edwinhubble.com. Accessed
on January 29, 2005.

Site devoted to Hubble includes a brief biography, quotes, images, an
interactive “stargazer” diagram, references, and links.


A folk story from India tells about six blind men who encountered

an elephant for the first time. Each touched a different
part of the gigantic animal and
assumed that the whole creature
was just like the part he felt. They
therefore came to completely dif-
ferent conclusions about what an
elephant was. One man stroked
the elephant’s trunk, for instance,
and decided that an elephant was
like a snake. Another bumped into
the elephant’s side and said the
beast resembled a wall. The man
who touched the elephant’s ear was
equally sure that elephants were
immense fans.
Until the mid-20th century,
astronomers were much like these
confused men. The huge telescopes
that Hale and others built could
detect only 200ths of 1 percent of
the range of radiation that reaches
Earth from space. As a result,
astronomers’ picture of the uni-
verse was far from complete.




Grote Reber built the first radio
telescope in his backyard in 1937,
a year after this photograph was
taken. (National Radio Astronomy

36 Modern Astronomy

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